by GEOFF FOX
With a multitude of trails crossing Hancock, Governor Larry Hogan has named the town Trail Town Maryland, a title only Hancock can boast.
More than 30 people gathered in the parking lot by River Run Bed and Breakfast on Saturday, June 6 as Mark Widmyer, Hogan’s Western Maryland Representative, made the announcement official.
Hogan was to attend the event, but his travel has been limited due to the current virus situation.
Among the elected officials in attendance were Hancock Councilman Leo Murray, Washington County Commissioners Jeff Cline and Cort Meinelschmidt, Nan Mann representing U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen who couldn’t make the event, and State Senator George Edwards.
Town Manager Joe Gilbert had been working on getting the designation for six months, he said.
In a unanimous vote during the March town meeting, town officials declared the first weekend in June would be Hancock Trail Days.
“That’s because we have so many trails and outdoor recreational opportunities in this great town of ours,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said the start of the process came from Tom Taylor of Main Street Hancock who is an avid outdoor enthusiast and bicyclist.
The two had a conversation about seven months ago with Taylor saying there wasn’t a town with that designation in the state and with the 11 trails in and around Hancock, it made sense.
“So, taking that idea, I approached Mark Widmyer of the governor’s office and I said the same thing,” Gilbert said.
Being the “squeaky wheel” and pestering over the last six or seven months got the proclamation from the governor.
As restrictions are lifted across the country and people want to get out of the house, destinations like Hancock are a natural draw for those folks.
Being Trail Town Maryland means people are going to want to come to Hancock, which will give the town a boost in tourism.
Gilbert said as that evolves, it’s the town’s intent Hancock becomes the outdoor recreation destination in Western Maryland.
Gilbert was pleased with the turnout of people. He said it represented more than just the event itself, it represented an acceptance from the larger community of what the town is going to become .
Rev. Terry Martin-Minnich of the Hancock Presbyterian Church gave a word of prayer before Widmyer came to the microphone.
Widmyer said after a lot of consideration, the governor tapped the town with its new designation.
“This is a great distinctive thing to happen to Hancock and this will be on the majority or all of the advertisement as far economic development and as far as anything to do with people traveling and looking for recreational areas,” Widmyer said.
Hogan, Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, and John C. Wobersmith signed the proclamation.
Mayor Ralph Salvagno said Hancock is a welcoming town to everyone no matter their faith, race, or nationality.
The mayor talked about the history of Hancock, how the rail trail carried passengers and goods to the train station just down the trail from where he stood. He told the crowd that the Monterey House stands where a fancy hotel once stood and that hunters used old Indian trails around this area, and one of the earliest battles of the Civil War took place in Hancock in 1862.
“We may be a small town, but we’ve got a long history of welcoming visitors and travelers,” Salvagno said.
“To the asphalt on the rail trail, it doesn’t care if the feet that walk on it are black, brown, white, or yellow. To the asphalt on the rail trail, it doesn’t matter if the person attached to those feet are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Agnostic,” Salvagno said.
He added those same things also don’t matter to the dirt along the C&O Canal or the water in the Potomac River.
He said Hancock was not known for its diversity and the town is no stranger to divisiveness.
During the Civil War, the loyalty of Hancock was split between the Union and Confederacy. However, after the war, Salvagno said residents joined together for the common good and “it’s time for us join together again for the common good.”
Salvagno said Hancock welcomes all to the streets of Hancock and invites everyone no matter their race, faith, or nationality to share in the beauty and opportunity of the town.
There might be symbols of divisiveness around town, which Salvagno said are part of people’s First Amendment rights.
“As a mayor, I apologize to those who might be offended by those symbols and I can assure you they offend me personally and most of us as well,” Salvagno said.
He said to the people of Hancock, it doesn’t matter what color a person is, or their religion, or their background.
“We welcome all who respect the rights of others and we, as the Town of Hancock, take the responsibility to ensure all are treated equally,” he said.
Salvagno said being named Trail Town Maryland is a recognition of what “we all know to be true” – that there are a wealth of recreational opportunities in the town.
“It’s almost like someone living in [Washington] D.C. who doesn’t go visit the monuments because they’re there,” he said.
The mayor said the town needs to broaden the reach and look at a 100-mile perimeter to see where the market is coming from and do a “really good job” of targeting market and finding out what the return investment would be.
He said there are ways that could happen, such as doing surveys in parking lots to see where people are coming from.
“We will be doing that over the next several months and being sure that we’re spending the money wisely and spending the money for the benefit of the citizens,” he said.
Gilbert said Main Street Hancock is launching a contest for a logo for the town’s new designation and it will appear on signage along Interstates 68 and 70 and any approach in to Hancock.
He’s also reaching out to other tourism boards to get the word out as well.
“The tourism industry is an industry,” Gilbert said, “with 4.3 million people using the trails every year” using the Great Allegany Passage Way, Gap Trail, and others.
Those people will get hungry, thirsty, tired and will want to shop – making Hancock an important stop along the trails.